Death of a Salesman (1951 film)

Death of a Salesman is a 1951 American film noir drama film adapted from the play of the same name by Arthur Miller. It was directed by László Benedek and written for the screen by Stanley Roberts. The film received many honors, including four Golden Globe Awards, the Volpi Cup and five Oscar nominations. Alex North, who wrote the music for the Broadway production, was one of the five Academy Award nominees for the film's musical score.[4]

Death of a Salesman
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLászló Benedek
Produced byStanley Kramer
Screenplay byStanley Roberts
Story byArthur Miller (playwright)
StarringFredric March
Mildred Dunnock
Kevin McCarthy
Cameron Mitchell
Music byAlex North
CinematographyFranz Planer
Edited byHarry Gerstad
William A. Lyon
Release date
  • December 20, 1951 (1951-12-20)
Running time
115 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.2 million (US rental)[3]


Willy Loman has led a life consisting of 60 years of failure. Loman's wife supports him, but he soon begins to lose his grip on reality and slips between the past and the present, frantically trying to find where he went wrong.[2]


The cast consisted mainly of the Broadway cast, with the addition of Kevin McCarthy from the original London Cast. However, Fredric March replaced Broadway actor Lee J. Cobb after concerns arose over Cobb's alleged past with leftist politics.[2]

Fredric March Willy Loman
Mildred Dunnock Linda Loman
Kevin McCarthy Biff Loman
Cameron Mitchell Happy Loman
Howard Smith Charley
Royal Beal Ben
Don Keefer Bernard
Jesse White Stanley
Claire Carleton Miss Francis
David Alpert Howard Wagner

Career of a Salesman

Just before the film was about to come out, Arthur Miller threatened to sue Columbia Studios over the short which was to appear before Death of a Salesman.[5] This short film, Career of a Salesman, showed what the producers believed was a more typical American salesman, and was an attempt to defuse possible accusations that Death of a Salesman was an anti-American film.[5] Eventually, Columbia agreed to remove the 10-minute short from the film's theatrical run.[5]

Miller saw Career of a Salesman as an attack upon his work, proclaiming "Why the hell did you make the picture if you're so ashamed of it? Why should anybody not get up and walk out of the theatre if Death of a Salesman is so outmoded and pointless?"[5] He argued against the portrayal of the salesman profession as "a wonderful profession, that people thrived on it, and there were no problems at all".[6] Eventually, the very attitude that led Columbia to commission the intro led to the failure of Death of a Salesman: People and businessmen in the political climate of the 1950s tried to distance themselves from a film depicting American failure.[2][5]


Benedek took great care in making the film a close transcription of the play.[1] In many places, the film uses Miller's lines verbatim, sometimes leaving out only small lines of dialogue.[1] However, the playwright claimed the movie was ruined by the truncation of key scenes.[7] In fact, the playwright had no involvement with or control over the movie.[6] Benedek also stressed the dreary, middle class setting of the film, using small rooms and gray shots.[1]


Though the film won over many film critics and received nominations for many awards, it was a box office failure. The subject matter, the failure of the American dream, did not appeal to many of the era's moviegoers.[2] Miller himself hated the adaptation of his play.[5] He also claimed that, though he wrote the play cinematically, Benedek managed to "chop off almost every climax of the play as though with a lawnmower" and portray Loman as a lunatic rather than a victim.[5][6]

As of September 2011, the film has never been commercially released in any home-viewing format, primarily because Columbia lost the rights when these were sold for the television remake with Dustin Hoffman. However, the film was preserved in 2013 by Columbia and The Film Foundation, which would suggest that the rights problem may have at last been resolved.

Awards and nominations


1952 Golden Globe Awards

1952 Venice Film Festival

New York Times Critics' Pick

  • Top 1,000


1952 Academy Awards

1952 Directors Guild of America Awards

1952 British Academy Film Awards

1952 Venice Film Festival

1952 Writers Guild of America Award

  • Best Written American Drama
  • Robert Meltzer Award

Digital restoration

In 2013 digital restoration of the film was done by Sony. The digital pictures were frame by frame digitally restored at Prasad Corporation to remove dirt, tears, scratches and other artifacts. The film was restored to its original look. This was part of the Stanley Kramer 100 year celebration, he would have been 100 years old on Sept. 29, 2013.[8]


  1. Crowther, Bosley (21 December 1951). "The Angel with the Trumpet (1950): THE SCREEN: FOUR NEW MOVIES OPEN; 'Death of a Salesman,' With Fredric March and Mildred Dunnock, at Victoria". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
  2. Eder, Bruce. "Death of a Salesman". AllMovie. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
  3. 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  4. "Alex North, a Film Composer, 80; Had 40-Year Hollywood Career". The New York Times. 11 September 2001. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  5. Kerrane, Kevin (1 September 2004). "Arthur Miller vs. Columbia Pictures: the strange case of Career of a Salesman". Journal of American Culture. Blackwell Publishing. Archived from the original on 14 June 2009. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  6. Solman, Paul (1999). "AN AMERICAN CLASSIC (Interview with Arthur Miller)". PBS. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  7. Shewwy, Don (15 September 2008). "TV'S CUSTOM-TAILORED 'SALESMAN'". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  8., Filmmaker Stanley Kramer's Legacy to be Remembered with Centennial Celebration, The Hollywood Reporter, By Bryn Elise Sandberg, August 8, 2013
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